'I'm Warm, Dammit' (Blake Rutherford On Politics)

by Blake Rutherford  on Wednesday, Jul. 2, 2014 10:28 am  

Blake Rutherford

Cotton's star rose quickly, which explains why he was polling the Senate race merely one month into his lone term in Congress. He had reasons to feed his ambition, of course, most notably that President Barack Obama was quite unpopular back home in Arkansas. But events in other states gave him hope at that time, too.

In 2012, Texas' election of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was important and had Republicans regaling. Cruz appeared to be part Barry Goldwater libertarian, part Mike Huckabee evangelical, part George W. Bush confrontationist, plus educated in the Ivy League and a former clerk for the Chief Justice of the United States who read Ayn Rand. As Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist George Will wrote, "For conservatives seeking reinforcements for Washington's too-limited number of limited-government constitutionalists, it can hardly get better than this."

Two years later, we know that it can, in fact, get a lot better than that. Far right obstructionism over the Affordable Care Act resulted in a shutdown of the federal government at a $24 billion cost to taxpayers. U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, said, "It was the dumbest idea I've ever heard of." Afterwards, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, was quoted in the New Yorker saying, "It was a fool's errand, and it hurt the Republican Party and it hurt my state." Cotton, you may recall, endorsed Cruz's "kamikaze" tactic, as The Wall Street Journal described it.

In the Senate, Cruz's approach has also stymied meaningful reforms to immigration, climate change and gun control, even in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Cruz, in dramatic fashion, opposed raising the debt ceiling and even opposed something as sensible as the United Nations Treaty on the Rights for Persons With Disabilities, despite support from disabled war veterans like former Republican U.S. Sen. Dole.

Once considered to be "the next great conservative hope," according to National Review, Cruz is no longer a first tier GOP presidential contender, in significant part because of this. David Frum, formerly a speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a well-regarded political commentator, noted that Cruz was "not a bet responsible Republicans should be willing to take if we have any intention of restoring our party to the White House in the near future."

Like Cruz, Cotton is searching for a broader national profile, and a position in the U.S. Senate would provide him with one. But at what cost to Arkansas' interests? Furthermore, can the goals of moderates, particularly Republicans, be met with Cotton in the Senate? The answer to those questions are far less certain than when this race began.

That may have something to do with persona, but I think it has a lot more to do with performance. Ultimately, Cotton may persuade voters that he's warm, but as he continues his misguided strategy to double down on irresponsible and extreme positions, he may also persuade them that he would, if given the opportunity, make a mess of things in the Senate, just as another of similar cast has done.

(Blake Rutherford is vice president of The McLarty Companies and previously was chief of staff to the Arkansas attorney general. You can follow him on Twitter at BlakeRutherford. His column appears every other Wednesday in the weekly Government & Politics e-newsletter. You can subscribe for free here.)



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